Claudia Batten on being a relentless seeker

Claudia Batten is an entrepreneur. She runs New Zealand Trade and Enterprise servicing the North American market. In her twenties she switched from commercial law and moved from New Zealand to New York where she was a founding member of two groundbreaking digital businesses: Massive Incorporated, which later sold to Microsoft, and Victor & Spoils, the first advertising agency built on the principles of crowd-sourcing. She is hugely driven by having an impact on the career of young women and is currently writing a book called The Squiggly Line.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I have a real issue with this question because I don't think I should ever have to grow up and I think it prescribes that we should be "a something". The reality of our world now is that you'll probably be multiple "somethings" and you should aspire to have a journey.

Who would you most like to be stuck on a desert island with? Why?
My husband, my family, my dog, my friends. My friends and family mean the world to me and I never have enough time with them. This would solve that issue.

What single book has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
I've got a really child-like curious demeanor so Alice in Wonderland is something that had a profound influence on me. I so appreciate the curiosity she had for a new world and all it’s unknowns.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
It depends on how much I've been traveling to New Zealand because that seriously messes with my routine. When I'm on a normal schedule I go to bed between 10-11pm and I get up at 4am. I find evenings wasted time and I'm really alert in the morning. If I don’t start early I feel behind for the rest of the day.

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
I started as a corporate attorney and worked for one of the biggest corporate law firms in New Zealand. I did really big commercial work with banks, Telcos, oil and gas. I did it for four years, which is a pretty decent time to do a career like that, but not too long that you get stuck into it. It was pretty hardcore. I loved it but it didn't fulfill my soul. That's a consciousness I now have, at the time I just wanted to move on.

I had this awareness that I needed to move beyond that very linear path that had set itself in front of me and so I moved from New Zealand to New York in January 2002. I basically re-wrote my career from that day forward and got on the path that took me to become a digital media entrepreneur. I've done that for the last 13 years in the US moving from New York to Boulder and now I'm based in LA. Along the way I had two exits and I'm currently working on two more start-ups.

Of the two companies that I exited one sold to Microsoft and one sold to Havas Worldwide. The first company was as part of a team. We actually pivoted an existing company so it was a very bizarre path and I feel like I had no awareness of what being an entrepreneur was. I would call that a slightly unconscious journey where you're in survival mode. We created a company call Massive and were the first company to create the ability to dynamically inter-change ads within video games. We hit the market at a really good time, executed with excellence and sold to Microsoft in 2006. Following that I worked for Microsoft for three years scaling the network. It was super interesting and great to go from Law in New Zealand to being in crazy start-up mode and then to go into the big environment that was Microsoft.

In 2009 I left Microsoft, and my husband jokes that I took a day off work, which is pretty accurate, and co-founded Victors & Spoils. We were an ad agency built on crowdsourcing principles. My journey with Massive left me with the realization that ad agencies were an old model and not serving brands for today’s marketing challenge. They were not taking advantage of digital tools, the changes in how consumers interact with brands nor our uber-connected world. Victor & Spoils attempted to address that, we were founded in 2011 and sold to Havas in 2013. So fast. I left shortly after the sale. At that stage I had an inkling of what has become my philosophy of the Squiggly Line and felt compelled to get out of something I had done before (working post acquisition at a start up).

So I left and spent a year giving back. My desire was to learn, to absorb and to let as much come into me. So I set out to basically say yes to anything that anyone asked me. Which is coming back to bite me now, I'm still doing that (saying yes) with a full time job and all my other responsibilities! So my work now is to figure out how to mesh my desire to be of service to the world with the fact that I've got a big team now and a couple of start-ups and a few board rolesThat was my desire, to learn, to absorb and to let as much come into me.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your career or industry?
I believe that we are our own biggest obstacle. I'm sure there are some people who don't experience this but ultimately, we get in our own way a lot faster than anything else will. A confident mindset and learnt skills around resilience, grit and just being able to back yourself, can super-charge you past those things.

What motivates you?
There’s a term that I came up with recently about entrepreneurs and that is that we are Relentless Seekers.  I'm fascinated by what's possible. Ultimately that's in my DNA, it's in my soul and I think it’s in any great explorer’s DNA. I think it’s also why Alice in Wonderland resonates for me as it does.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
I knew nothing about a non-traditional career path but I'm glad about that. I think if I'd known any of this I would have tried to do it well, to get an A. I feel like the fact that I haven't known has allowed for the discovery.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
One thing that I can step back from and get really excited about are the girls and women that I'm mentoring and have mentored. Seeing them being able to develop as a result of me pulling them into a few projects and working side by side with them and frankly, imparting confidence in them. I find it immensely rewarding to feel that I'm contributing to putting more women into the spotlight and that we are changing the ratio.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
I have an ability to build relationships with people through truly listening. Not just understanding what they're saying but what the intention is behind what they're saying and being really willing and able to find a joint win. The ability as an entrepreneur to engender trust and truly develop relationships from a very authentic place, has been massively powerful for my career.

What is your life motto?
Be the biggest, bravest, boldest version of yourself.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
It's something somebody said to me in the last three years as I embarked upon the journey to being a board director. Having gone through university and working at a top Law firm, you get very used to being right. It's very easy to jump into any situation and feel like you need to be forthright, dominant and smart.

The advice was to sit back and listen to the perspectives of others, think about it and try to find a way that navigates the path that can bring most people along with you. It was incredibly powerful to get that advice later in life and to really peel me back from feeling like I had to show up as the know-all. The head of the organization I work for now, a New Zealander has a great saying about this “advocate as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong”.

Who do you most admire in business? Why?
Warren Buffett, because he’s still working. Seeing somebody else who's clearly not prepared to stop inspires me because I want to do this till I'm in my 80s too. He also just makes really smart moves.  The hesitation I have with him is that he doesn't invest in new technology as a rule.

As a contrast, I really appreciate what Barry Diller has done. He’s somebody that I do think has forged ahead by taking a lot of risks in our space. What he's been saying recently about curiosity is spot on and one of the most important skills that you can bring to the workforce.

Sheryl Sandberg has to go on my list too. I have massive respect for her bravery in saying I am on this platform, I am being listened to, I have the microphone and there's something really important that needs to be said. She shows up in this incredibly strong, brave and vulnerable way. It’s very of the moment and very powerful.

Do you think there's a secret to rising to the top?
My success has come from being extraordinarily authentic, really hard working and very open. If there's one word that most people would use to describe me, it would be that I'm open. And unbounded perhaps.

What are your favorite traits about women in the workplace?
I have to go back to "be the biggest, bravest, boldest version of yourself " because the point of that mantra is that your uniqueness is what's going to set you apart. You have to understand what that is for you and you have to own that.

The biggest thing for women to understand is that they don’t have to show up in any specific way and certainly not in a conformist, masculine way. The thing we all do is we feel a little bit afraid about being 100% us and so we try and do something that feels like it's going to be okay, that feels like people are going to be accepting of. That’s the wrong impulse. There are elements you have to learn about how the job is done in professionalism but you also need to merge that with who you are and what is unique about you because that's ultimately what's interesting and what means you're not going to be replaced by a robot. No joke!

What's next?
The biggest part of my future is the concept of "squiggling". I'm such an entrepreneur that I'm just letting this thing have it's own journey. Squiggling is something that is critically important to me because it's my ethos and underscores the way I look at the world. It's got a lot of undertones that we know and are familiar with, around disruption and agility, and I'm really interested in taking it to a corporate audience to help them think about how they can be a bit looser and a little less controlling in how they operate.



As told to Caroline Hugall over Skype on Wednesday 15th July 2015. Claudia lives and works in Los Angeles.